Photo by Felisha Tolentino
Album Pick of the Month: Green Day’s ¡Dos!
By Glenn McDonald
The first time I saw a Green Day video is also the last time I ever called a friend specifically about something I’d seen on MTV. (I’m afraid I placed out of MTV’s target demographic long ago.)
It was 1994, and Green Day’s major label debut Dookie had issued its first single, “Longview,” which immediately went into heavy rotation on MTV and modern rock radio. The song – so instantly addictive, so packed with hooks – was coupled perfectly with a video that highlighted the band’s intriguing punk-pop aesthetic. I raved out loud to my buddy, but he was already on the bus. “Oh, yeah, they’re the real deal,” he said. “They’ll make records forever if they don’t implode.”
Thankfully, Green Day never did implode. Dookie sold 10 million copies, subsequent albums sold 55 million more, and they won a whole new generation of fans with 2004′s punk rock opera American Idiot, which eventually went to Broadway. The band hitched a ride on the rocket to to rock stardom with unexpected smarts and grace.
All this history comes to bear on the band’s latest record, ¡Dos!, the second in a triptych along with ¡Uno! (released in October) and ¡Tré!, due next month. Fast, mean and (mostly) loud, ¡Dos! is an entirely satisfying record that finds the band pulling select samples from their own notional record bin. The songs are short and scrappy, and they swerve thrillingly amongst the core rock principles that have always informed the band’s sound.
The stutter-step rockabilly rhythm of “Stray Heart” showcases the enduring synergy of bassist Mike Dirnt and drummer Tré Cool. “Baby Eyes” displays frontman Billie Joe Armstrong’s casual, intuitive command of melody. The propulsive, almost haywire energy of “Ashley” channels the spiky heart of the record. There’s a sense of danger here as Armstrong sings of high, wild times: “I taste the cigarettes and liquor on your breath/We used to call it speed but now it’s crystal meth.”
Other tracks yank out wires from rock history and cross them with the band’s signature punk-pop current. You’ll hear bits of sonic DNA from all the usual suspects: the Stones, the Who, the Clash, early Replacements.
Then there are the unexpected turns: “Wild One” has hints of melody and harmony that sound like what the Beach Boys might have managed, had they formed 25 years later and 350 miles to the north. “Nightlife,” with its gooey, plodding rhythm and distorted vocals, might make you think of the Doors. That track also features a kind of punk-rap hybrid vocal contribution from collaborator Lady Cobra. Rap sequences in rock songs work approximately zero percent of the time, but this one beats the odds.
With the final track “Amy,” the record closes as it opens – just Armstrong and his guitar. It’s a real heartbreaker. A tribute to late soul singer Amy Winehouse, the song is drenched in sadness and regret, and features passages that remind us what an evocative lyricist Armstrong has become: “Is your heart singing out of tune?/Are your eyes just singing the blues?/Dirty records from another time/Some blood stains on your shoes.” The chorus is simple and plaintive: “Amy, please don’t go.”
Recent reports suggest Armstrong has checked back into rehab himself, which is incredibly good news, considering the alternative. ¡Dos! represents how proficient a songwriter Armstrong is and how vital a band Green Day remains. Turns out you can be a ginormous, world-famous rock band and still make tight, focused, satisfying records. No imploding, boys! We need you.